Preface - with all the heat and severe storms we've been having, sometimes it's best to just hunker down and wait until things calm down and cool off. This gives me time to sit in front of the laptop and pound out some missives about previous sojourns. Someone told me I better slow down or I'll run out of stories. That's unlikely to happen. My older brother suggested I might want to set up a blog. He mentioned that it should have a catchy title. I like the idea of "Stop, look and listen." What I really want to call it is, "I don't make this s**t up!" Unfortunately, I'd lose my GP rating. Anyway, until that happens I'm perfectly content to bore all of you with the usual tales of misadventures that could also be categorized as a pack of preposterous lies.
Franklin, NC Late June, 2008.
My wife and I had just purchased a used Winnebago, Class C motor home and were planning a trip out west later in the summer. Obviously it needed a "shakedown" cruise and Lee and I were just the guys to handle that task. Since my wife and I planned to trailer the RT out west, I wanted to trailer the RT to the Smokies and let Lee ride as an escort. After some discussion it was agreed upon that we would trailer both bikes. My utility trailer was only big enough for one bike, but I was able to borrow a neighbor's that was big enough to hold my RT and Lee's LT.
Now I realize that to some, trailering a bike is enough to have you excommunicated from the biking community. Let me offer some positive attributes to the naysayers. First of all, there's no limit to how much gear you can take. Second, it's quite nice to set up the rig in a campground, put some chairs under the awning, start a campfire and crack open a couple of cold ones. The owners and managers of motels tend to get upset when you build a campfire in the lobby just so you can meet your neighbors. Third, the scenery from a campsite is usually better than what you find outside your motel door which consists of a parking lot, fast food franchises, gas stations, etc. (Yes, I know you can get the same thing camping with the bike, but if you can pack a refrigerator, microwave, stove, shower and toilet on your bike, send me a picture.) Finally, it's pretty neat to be cruising down I-81 while Lee goes to the galley and prepares a plate of cheese and crackers while yours truly has the helm and all of this being done at 70 mph. (There was no inflight movie.)
When we first arrived at the campground, it appeared that we may have got the last available spot. It was early in the week, but we figured it must be high tide for campers. Oddly enough, we didn't see anyone other than the owner. There were RVs and trailers of all sizes and makes, but no people. I began to think that maybe they only came out at night for a Zombie/vampire jamboree. Not so. These people lease their sites for the whole season and commute from home to Franklin to spend a weekend or maybe just a week. (More on that later.)
I will not go into the details of our rides. To be honest, just how many stories can you read until you've had your fill of sweepers, twisties, hairpins, bobby pins and safety pins? Yes, we did the Skyway, the Dragon, the Hellbender, the road to the Highlands and they are all great and fun, but you already know that, right? So, we stop, look and listen.
Heading back from Tennessee on the Dragon, I spotted Killboy at one of his usual pullouts taking pictures of the riders. The first shot is one he took of Lee. The second is one I took because I wanted to see if the front front on the chopper was articulated so it could make the tight curves.
We had an enjoyable time talking with Killboy and he shared with us some pictures from his album. Our favorite was one of sparks coming from the cylinder of a boxer leaning way over as it scraped against the asphalt.
There is a reason the Smokies got their name and true to life we actually saw an example right outside our campground.
This was an honest-to-God forest fire and during the next two days we watched it slowly grow. When I asked the campground manager why no one seemed to be doing anything he told us that it's a dispute over responsibility. The fire is either on state forest or national forest lands and until it can be determined on whose land the fire is, no one is going to take any action. You just have to love a bureaucratic system like this. (Yes, I'm being sarcastic.) Fortunately, we had an overnight rainstorm and that settled the matter.
By Thursday afternoon the regular guests at this campsite began to arrive and it was nothing short of a family reunion. Being newcomers it didn't take long for them to make us feel at home. Friday afternoon there was a knock on a door and a wonderful grandmotherly type woman presented us with a freshly baked pound cake. She said, "I thought you boys might want some dessert after you've done all your riding around here." The lifespan of that pound cake would have to be measured in nanoseconds.
Saturday afternoon while Lee took a nap I sat outside reading when another woman across the lane and invited us over to her RV for some watermelon, lemonade and a chance to meet the other "regulars." Now Motel 6 might "leave the light on for you", but have they ever delivered pound cake to your room or invited you out for watermelon and lemonade?
We had a delightful gathering and spent several hours swapping tales and telling lies. At one point we were asked if we had been to eat at the Dillard House which is south of Franklin and just over the line in Dillard, Georgia. We said "no" and were immediately told to go there for breakfast.
"Wait a minute," I asked. "Is this the kind of place where you don't eat the day before you go?" Everyone just nodded their heads and grinned at us. A trip to the Dillard House just got bumped to the number one position on our "To DO" list.
It's a short ride to Dillard and at first glance the restaurant looks like a large motel made from huge stones. Walking inside there's a desk that looks a lot like the registration for a motel. Mounted on the wall above and behind the desk is a menu which includes the following: eggs, grits, home fries, hash browns, sausage, biscuits and gravy, bacon, ham, Virginia smoked ham, toast, hot cakes, and that's all I can remember, but I know there was more.
A hostess asked how many. We said just the two of us and she escorted us into the dining room.
A young, and very attractive waitress came to our table. When I say attractive, I can only recall a quote from one of the soldiers on "F Troop" who described a young lady as being, "...purtier than a spotted dog under a red wagon."
She smiled and in a very soft southern accent, like a contented cat purring in a pool of maple syrup, asked, "Have y'all been heah befo?"
"No ma'am," we replied.
"So, y'all don't know how this works, do ya?"
"Well ma'am," I grinned. "I suspect that we order food, you bring it to us, we eat and then we pay and leave."
She grinned right back at me. "Well that's almost correct. Did you see that menu when you came in?" We nodded. "Well, we bring all of that to yo' table and you jist hep yo'selves. If you want mo', jist raise yo' hand and someone will take yo' order and bring whatever you want for seconds." I had a flashback of Cool Hand Luke eating fifty hard boiled-eggs in an hour. She left and in a few minutes, two waiters brought our trays and set them on a folding stand near our table. I would like to point out, and I am not making this up, that each tray was just slightly smaller than the table we were sitting at. The gauntlet was thrown down and now it was up to two Yankee appetites to defeat the army of southern food.
I believe we might want to call it a draw. We did have seconds and the food was absolutely delicious. I couldn't help but notice that several diners would order a third helping and then ask for a take home "doggie bag." Evidently this is not frowned upon. At one point the hostess came to our table and asked how everything was. After telling her that everything was perfect she told us that there was also, fruit, donuts, cold cereal, etc., but it was at another table and it was "self-serve." I walked across the dining room and was overwhelmed by the display. If you've ever seen similar displays at the breakfast buffet at a major hotel or on a cruise ship, you know what I'm talking about. If not, take a look at the fresh produce department of a large grocery store and you'll get the idea. You might want to check out their website http://www.dillardhouse.com/restaurant/index.php
Outside we walked around for a while trying to lower our center of gravity. Then it was a few more minutes as we added air to the tires and readjusted the shocks on the bikes. I have little recollection where we rode that day, I was too busy digesting.
On our last day we made the run to Cashiers by way of Highlands. Our destination was the Carolina Smokehouse which I had seen during one of Alton Brown's episodes on "Feasting on Asphalt." The ride up to Highlands is not to be missed. A narrow road winds up through a narrow canyon beside a stream filled with waterfalls. There are a few scenic pullouts and they're well worth stopping at. Be aware that this is a very narrow road and the tri-axle dump trucks and Class A RVs tend to take their half of the road from the middle. One side out is worth taking because you get a chance to ride under a waterfall. (I'm not too sure if it's still there, but it was in 2008.)
The Carolina Smokehouse was everything we had hoped for: inside and outside dining, the smell of wood smoke and the sound of incisors and molars gnawing on well cooked flesh and bone. The outside dining area is a flat wooden platform with a wooden roof. The exterior wall is covered with license plates from all over, the U.S. Canada, Mexico and Europe.
As we were finishing our ribs and pulled port sandwiches a group of "bikers" got up and walked into the parking lot and their bikes. By "bikers," I mean, leather chaps, sleeveless t-shirts, tattoos and dew rags. On the back of their shirts was a stencil stating that they were "Bikers for Christ." There is no doubt that every diner on that deck got religion in the next few seconds because when this group fired up their bikes the unbaffled straight pipes made so much noise that everyone on the deck sat up straight and shouted, "Jesus Christ!" And after they pulled out onto the road and headed away things got quiet and you could even hear a few people say, "Thank God." Well amen to that.
The next day we loaded the gear, the bikes, said our good-byes and headed north to home. To say we had our "fill" of the Smokies is the truth, both literally and figuratively.